Fun Word Origins Quiz: How Well Do You Know the History of the English Language?
What is the origin of the word "clue"?
- The French word for "association"
- A Greek word for a ball of yarn, such as the one used to navigate the minotaur's maze
- The name of the American nineteenth-century mystery writer, Gerald Clu
- A popular confidence game, run by pirates in the Mediterranean
Where does the word "jumbo" come from?
- The name of a circus elephant
- An old Sioux word for "chief"
- James Beaux, the architect of a large United States monument
- A children's book protagonist of unusual girth
You may know how to make a good sandwich, but who would you credit for the name of this popular lunchtime option?
- A late eighteen-century Irish tea shop known for serving a more substantial meal than most of its contemporaries
- A reporter for the early tabloid industry
- An earl who asked for his meat to be placed between slices of bread because he didn't like to get his hands dirty while playing cards
- A United States senator who would grab a quick meal on the run in order not to waste time
Like so many words in the Oxford English Dictionary, "genuine" comes from a Latin word that means almost the same thing. But what's the origin of the Latin word?
- A common epitaph found on funerary urns
- Military traditions involving the oaths veteran commanders would swear to their new recruits
- The scale with which Roman moneylenders would weigh silver
- The Latin word for "knee" and Roman birth custom
Who was the original "dunce"?
- Daniel Ulysses Nolan Cleary, a milliner who tried to bring tall, conical hats back into style
- Duns Scotus, a Scottish theologian whose work fell out of favor during the English Reformation and Renaissance
- Duncan Smith, the village idiot in seventeenth-century English ballads
- Dunce Waller, a folklore character in medieval poems and plays
The word "sycophant" has a couple of different stories attached to it, but its root words are uncontested. The roots of "sycophant" mean...
The word "ketchup" first came into use as a transliteration of a word from which of these languages?
- Modern Gaelic
When you purchase a mortgage, you're probably not thinking about the French origins of the word, which means...
- Moral measure
- Money gauntlet
- Glove custom
- Death pledge
If you know something about drama, it's no surprise that "tragedy" comes from the Greek tragoedia. But do you know what its Greek roots mean?
- Sad play
- Drama competition
- Goat song
- Festival dance
Are you tired? Did this quiz leave you groggy? Almost done. Just one more. Where does the word "groggy" come from?
- An admiral who demanded that his sailors dilute their rum, a weaker drink that came to be called after "Old Grog," the admiral's nickname
- A potent cocktail that sailors encountered in the West Indies and was commonly served as a nightcap
- An early medical term for alcohol-related dementia
- A magician named Maestro Gregory who was skilled in the art of misdirection
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You may understand the meaning of all the words in the Oxford English Dictionary, but do you know the stories of how they entered modern English? Take this etymology quiz on words with weird or interesting origin stories and see how many you can figure out. No hitting the books to look them up! How much do you really know about the history of the English language?